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(2012 - Winter/Spring Issue)


My husband, daughter, son-in-law, two grandsons (aged five and three) and I step off the Disney Magical Express bus from Orlando International Airport, a somewhat ragged, weary and hungry bunch.

But as we enter Jambo House, our hotel in the Animal Kingdom Lodge, I feel something new stirring.

The intoxicating sound of drum beats, a larger-than-life lobby, rich wood, soaring beams, shield-like chandeliers and wonderful artifacts all seem to “transport” us somewhere into the heart of Africa! Any traces of fatigue seem to melt away and pure excitement races through us. 

Into the Heart of Africa

The children begin exploring, drawn to the warmth of the lobby’s fire pit; and then through the lobby’s striking, multi-level glass windows, they spy the Arusha Rock’s great outdoor fire pit, encircled by oversized rocking chairs just waiting to be activated! 

Disney World’s Jambo House incorporates authentic African-inspired architecture, and the kraal African village landscape design that is semicircular, providing superb views of the surrounding savannah (17 hectares) and the animals. Attention to African detail is impressive, from the types of grasses, shrubs and even the copper-pod trees growing in the savannah, to the interior decor’s painted motifs, massive wood beams and hand-carved wood. Such a unique hotel! Simply walking to our rooms is an adventure when we spot giraffes through the magnificent windows that overlook the wildlife preserve along the main hallways.

We note the identifying room numbers on “shields” that adorn the doors. Vibrant African-designed bedspreads, intricately carved wooden dressers and headboards, the latter softly draped with netting, as well as a wonderful mirror “shell,” enclosed by a “turtle” frame, reinforce the African theme in a distinctive, engaging way.

Enriching activities abound for the children from learning about African drumming, masks and lore to animal education. Our boys, Ben and Jacob, try their hand at “tracking,” both wearing equipment and using teamwork to locate a hidden “Mickey Mouse.” After successfully retrieving the doll, they each receive a string and a bead, the first ones to start their Animal Kingdom Lodge necklaces. The problem becomes finding the time to partake in the many experiences offered.

As we stroll about the grounds we see the grand, undulating pool area, Uzima, the “watering hole,” with its many inviting nooks and crannies for sitting and lounging amidst the foliage. Flamingoes of the savannah are always on view, along one side of the pool. But for Jacob, our three-year-old, the absolute highlight is the huge waterslide!

Ben is intrigued with the high-tech game room as Jacob runs about outside; we guide them to The Mara and have a light snack at the American-styled and only fast food restaurant on the premises. The other two restaurants are African-styled. Jiko–The Cooking Place offers a unique, fine-dining experience while Boma–Flavors of Africa serves exotic buffets at a somewhat more moderate cost.

A Sensory Explosion

Awakening refreshed, our two eager boys in hand, we head to the Magic Kingdom, via the Walt Disney World bus.

The charged atmosphere is palpable; finally we are here! Just ahead, at the apex, stands Cinderella’s fantastic castle, like a shimmering vision reaching the clouds. All about us, on Main Street, USA, we are enveloped by charming, turn-of-the-century buildings, a rainbow of colours, and the pulsating beat of a street party filled with loveable Disney characters and catchy music. Where to look first?

“There’s Goofy!” Jacob cries.

“And Minnie and Mickey Mouse,” Ben exclaims.

We clap and sway happily to the beat. The boys are mesmerized. Later they scramble to pick up the glittery, colourful, confetti-like Mickey Mouse heads strewn about the street—their way to keep the magic. Almost immediately the cleaning crew whisk away whatever remains. This place is spanking clean and yet we never see any garbage trucks; it’s all part of the magical mystery.

Skipping into Stories

Disney’s brilliant vision of combining “stories” of timeless enchantment (Fantasyland and Adventureland) with those of the past (Liberty Square, “Main Street, USA,” and Frontierland), as well as imaginings of the future (Tomorrowland) creates an inspiring and beguiling total Magic Kingdom experience.

We venture initially to Fantasyland and our first ride, “It’s a Small World.” The 10-minute wait in line actually cools us as the air conditioning reaches this area. Soon enough, the wide-eyed boys travel by “boat” recognizing and identifying the countries that correspond to the dancing and singing life-size dolls. We adults are amazed at how well this ride has held up through time. Whimsical and captivating, the music is still catchy and the simple message still relevant. Peter Pan’s Flight becomes one of the boy’s favourites as they thrill to the fantastic feeling that they are flying above the rooftops and into the story. Steering the wheel enhances the fun for Ben on Winnie the Pooh’s ride. While Snow White’s Scary Adventures fascinates the boys at every turn, it leaves Jacob questioning if the hunter is good or bad. But they love it all: spinning dizzily in the huge teacups, soaring above on Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and turning gently on Prince Charming’s carousel.

We are surprised by the vast number of people here this second week in October and not just families but people of all ages. Between the crowds, strollers, wheelchairs and motorized scooters, we really have to watch our steps!

Never resting on its laurels, plans for a great expansion of Fantasyland are in the works. Scheduled for completion in 2013, Fantasyland will almost double in size, with much to come, including a Journey of the Little Mermaid attraction.

Adventureland’s Pirates of the Caribbean becomes another of the boys’ favourite attractions. A little dark and scary, a battle in progress, amazing detail and expression in the faces and movements of the characters and even the animals, Jack Sparrow appearing and jailed pirates beseeching at the end—all create a vivid impression. Jacob really is working on the concepts of good and evil and keeps trying to distinguish who the good and bad guys are in this vignette.

Frontierland’s Tom Sawyer Island affords the opportunity to run, climb and explore the island—ideal for the boys!

Tomorrowland’s Speedway is exhilarating as the boys drive (with father and grandfather) along the track. Ben is excitedly engaged in Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin as he “shoots” and scores throughout the ride!

We enjoy wonderful live shows throughout—an impromptu jazz band, a barbershop quartet, pirates clowning, Dream-Along with Mickey Show as well as a 3-D fun-filled cartoon in a theatre, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, where characters and objects appear to fly out into the audience.

Lions, Elephants and Zebras, oh my!

But the highlight of the live shows is one we see the following day at the Animal Kingdom Theme Park. The Festival of the Lion King is a rousing spectacle: the songs, dances and interaction with the audience bring the beloved story to life. Amazingly agile “monkey” acrobats totally captivate Ben. Jacob practises his roars like the lions on stage.

The Dinosaur Boneyard is a play maze where the boys can be active, run and let off steam and later, they cling dearly to the black bat-like stuffed animals they “win” in a tossing contest at the nearby Fossil Fun Games.

A walk along Discovery Island Trails reveals many animals such as the tortoises and lemurs, inspiring us to learn more as we board our open-air vehicle for a safari into the “African savannah” to spot animals roaming freely. For us, it’s an incredible thrill to hear the fascinating guided commentary while we view the animals in their environment.

Everywhere we turn in the resort and theme parks, we encounter friendly, helpful and informative staff, making our experiences more memorable. As part of an international program, many spend a year at Disney World and are proud ambassadors of their countries.

Just scratching the surface with so much more to explore, reluctantly we have to leave, but we are already planning our next trip to Walt Disney World where our three generations can continue to share this happy, enchanting corner of the world.

Travel Planner

For more information, check Disneyworld.com. Here are a few things you should know to make your time more enjoyable: 

Be sure to reserve ahead of time any special meals with princesses and other characters as these are booked up quickly; similarly reserve early for dinners at the Disney resorts.

Customize your entrance tickets to reflect how you want to spend your time in the theme parks with the Magic Your Way program.

To avoid waiting in lines, use the FASTPASS service for certainattractions (announced daily) to reserve a time.

Guests at the Disney Resorts enjoy free transportation to the Disney World theme parks and resorts.

Guests at select Disney Resorts are entitled to complimentary transfers from and to the airport on the Disney Magical Express bus.

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